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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah County's first ever all vote-by-mail election is off to a rocky start.
It turns out that not some, but all unaffiliated voters in Utah County were mistakenly sent ballots intended only to go to Republican voters thanks to an "unfortunate clerical error," Utah County Clerk/Auditor Bryan Thompson confirmed Thursday.
Thompson had said Wednesday night that some ballots had been affected, but he received confirmation from his staff Thursday that it has impacted all unaffiliated voters.
The error led to the misprinting of nearly 70,000 ballots — and is expected to cost the county an additional $15,000 to $20,000 to inform voters of the error, Thompson said.
"We cross-checked, triple-checked, but in this particular case it did not get the appropriate level of scrutiny it should have," the county clerk said. "We're all human, mistakes happen, but that being said it's still something that needs an additional level of oversight to review and keep this particular mistake from ever happening again."
As a result, all of Utah County's 68,028 unaffiliated voters have received or will be receiving a ballot in the mail that includes not just their municipal primary races — if they have any — but also an option to vote in the 3rd Congressional District GOP primary, which is supposed to be exclusive to registered Republican voters.
Thompson said his office will ensure that any unaffiliated votes aren't counted in the special election primary by sorting them using a code on the back of the envelope and "turning off" that segment of the ballot as they're scanned and processed.
The additional cost, however, will come from printing off some 70,000 mailers to notify the unaffiliated voters of the error and that their vote will be counted in municipal races, but not in the 3rd District race because it's a closed primary.
The mailer will also tell unaffiliated voters that if they wanted to vote in the special election, they will have to affiliate as a Republican at the polls on Aug. 15, Thompson said.
The county clerk said his office is working with the Utah Lt. Governor's Office to ensure the "language" of that mailer doesn't appear to encourage voters to register as Republicans, but to only inform that they have the option.
"It will say something like, 'Those of you who were planning to affiliate, this is a reminder you have to do it at the polls on Election Day,'" Thompson said.
He expects that up to $20,000 in postcard costs won't require him to ask for additional money from the Utah County Commission because he budgeted for some unexpected costs in the $500,000 budget adjustment to pay for the special election this year.
State Elections Director Mark Thomas called the error "unfortunate," particularly because it impacts and may potentially confuse nearly 70,000 voters.
"Obviously when it comes to an error on the ballot that has already been sent out to voters, it's something that requires great care to ensure the appropriate votes are tallied," Thomas said, adding that his office will work carefully with Utah County to make sure the ballots are processed correctly.
"This is obviously a very sensitive and critical part of the process and we need to make sure we get it right," he said.